Protecting Germans III: Our Allies

This is the third in a series of blog posts (previous: 1, 2) on how Mozilla is using its trademarks to try and make sure everyone gets a genuine copy of our software, for free.

Mozilla has a form where people can report sites abusing our trademarks. And we are very grateful to people who do. Harvey Anderson, the Mozilla general counsel, has recently posted some statistics on what those sorts of reports have helped us achieve.

But we aren’t the only people trying to deal with the problem of “subscription trap” sites. downloados.de is a private initiative in Germany educating internet users about the typical set-up of a subscription trap. It comes across like a typical trap site, but when the user makes the final click to send off their personal details and to obtain the software, the website then informs them that they were about to spend money on free software and that they should be more careful next time.

Protecting Germans II: The Steps

This is the second in a series of blog posts (previous) on how Mozilla is using its trademarks to try and make sure everyone gets a genuine copy of our software, for free. I will continue to use Germany as an example.

When we discover a wilful trademark infringement, we normally take the following steps, in increasing order of seriousness:

  1. Contact search engines to ask for the site to be delisted.

We have a good relationship with the major search engines, and being delisted or having their advertising removed does a great deal to “cut off the air supply” of fraudulent sites.

  1. Report the site to consumer protection agencies such as computerbetrug.de, antiabzockenet.blogspot.com and boocompany.com.
  2. Send a cease and desist letter.

In most cases, sending a C&D sorts out the problem. If it doesn’t, we:

  1. File a DENIC domain dispute and request cancellation or transfer of any infringing domain names.

Where there is a domain name involved which infringes Mozilla’s trademarks, we can file a domain dispute alongside sending the C&D. For German domains, this is very quick and cost-efficient (national stereotypes at work :-). Upon cancellation of a .de domain by the infringer, DENIC automatically transfers the domain to Mozilla. (For other TLDs, it’s not so automatic.)

We have already obtained numerous domain names this way. Examples include “mozilla.de”, “mozilla-europe.de”, “mozillamessaging.de” and “mozilla.fr”, as well as dozens of typosquatted domains.

Unfortunately, for subscription traps, a C&D rarely has any effect. So we move on to:

  1. Obtain a preliminary injunction (PI).

In Germany, PIs are also quick and cheap. Typically, it takes 1 or 2 days to obtain a PI. The proceedings are ex-parte (you only need one side in court), the other side is not even notified of the application for a PI and there is no discovery of evidence. You make your case, and the judge decides.

PIs become effective upon service. If they are not complied with, they can be enforced through penalty payment proceedings. However, a quicker way to take the site down is by approaching the provider. Under German law, internet providers are liable for infringing content once they are made aware of the infringement. Thus, a letter to a provider, accompanied by a copy of the PI, usually leads to the immediate shutdown of the site. (Remember, the site has already been warned of proceedings by the C&D; this is not coming out of the blue.)

So far, Mozilla has needed to file 6 7 (another one this week) PIs, and all of them were successful. In two cases, the other side appealed, but the PI was confirmed on appeal.

Protecting Germans I: The Problem

Recently the German government, along with the governments of several other countries, recommended (link in German) moving away from IE to “an alternative browser”, due to some well-publicized IE security flaws. Blog of Metrics has shown us the effect this recommendation has had on downloads of the German localized version of Firefox – 300,000 extra copies in one weekend.

Unfortunately, we strongly suspect not all Germans will be getting the real deal. Germany is a place where Mozilla has a particular problem with trademark infringement of various types. The most typical of these are:

  • infringing domain name registrations (e.g. typo domains such as “morzilla.de”, “firfox.de”)
  • misleading online content (people pretending to be the official Mozilla download site)
  • offers of modified versions of Mozilla’s software, e.g. with a changed toolbar, or containing malware
  • “subscription traps” – where something which seems free actually ends up costing you

I’ve written about subscription traps in the past. These are fraudulent websites which lead users to believe that they are obtaining a typical free download of Firefox or Thunderbird. Only the small print mentions that by registering for the download, the user undertakes a contractual obligation to pay up to £95 (€105; US$150) per year.

This sucks.

Over the next few days I’m going to be blogging about what Mozilla is actively doing to use our trademarks to protect Germans, and residents of other countries as well, from being ripped off in this way.

My thanks to Anthonia Zimmermann of Lovells for her help in preparing this series of blog posts.